30 Seconds To Mars

This Is War

Written by: TL on 13/12/2009 00:34:52

Dear readers, buckle your seatbelts. This is one of those records.. This is one of those records of such huge expectations, that pretty much anyone with a vague interest in the term rock, will have formed some sort of opinion of it, long before even hearing it. This is 30 Seconds To Mars, and this, "This Is War". The band's third album, prior to the release of which, a wave of fantastic things had already been heard. "It will feature choral vocals from thousands of fans" they said. "It will have 2000 different fan-submitted covers they said". "It will have guest appearances from Kanye West and Brandon Flowers" they said... And it almost never happened, as the band was indeed locked in 'war' with their label Virgin/EMI, over a million dollar lawsuit, but fortunately for the fans, the combatants ended up resolving their differences, and as of this Tuesday, the world is living in the light of "This Is War".

Now, normally I would spend time addressing haters in a review like this - those that moan about the band becoming more accessible after their first record, or those that simply have it in for Jared Leto and his presumed, pretentious, artistic Hollywood behaviour - But there's simply too much to talk about on the actual record, so those people can listen or not, it's their loss. What I will say, is that 30 Seconds To Mars is indeed Leto's brain child, or more accurately, his vision, and the band has always been about the pursuit of the epic, the cinematic, the inspirational. So you can forget about compositional revolution, technical instrumental wankery and punk-rock self-awareness and restraint. This is an all out shot at the stars, the lift-off of a rocket, aimed for the realms where few bands have been before.

The record establishes tension with the brief intro "Escape", before sounding things off with the first highlight "Night Of The Hunter". Drums assault you instantly before the band for the first time earns the comparison to the band that, after this record has run its course, will be one of few 30STM can be mentioned alongside - U2. The drifting, razor-sharp guitar lines set a nocturnal mood as Leto whispers and wails like only Bono has done before him, calling out the song's title in a chorus that, while it put me off to begin with, I quickly found myself singing even while doing something entirely else than listening to the record. Leto's delivery goes along way towards this goal, as his performance in-studio is close to unmatched, the way he can both extend his voice to bone-chilling screams and croons, and whisper with spell-binding emotion. Odds are that you've already heard the following track, the single "Kings & Queens" and sandwiched in between the dark "Night Of The Hunter, and the following "This Is War", I can't find a more fitting expression than saying that it simply sounds like sunrise. The choirs, made of layered recordings of thousands of the band's fans during "Summits" held around the world, sound like nothing you've heard before, and send shivers down your spine the way you'll only normally feel if you see a truly massive band on a truly massive stage. And the songs themselves? These songs will get you more pumped than when you first saw the battle scenes in movies like Braveheart or Gladiator. It is a single minded sense of inspiration beyond explanation.

After three of such tracks, the band sensibly opt to show that they have more than that to offer though, as "This Is War" fades into the warm, acoustic strumming of "100 Suns", and for a brief moment, the feeling is as intimate as the last song was epic. That's until the choirs come back in, and you're forced to picture in your mind, thousands and thousands of lighters and cellphones held into the air. It's like being at a live show, except the sound is obviously perfect. Not content before showing more sides of themselves however, 30STM follow with "Hurricane", a song that is as 'studio' as the prior was 'live', driven almost exclusively by electronics, piano chords and beautiful strings, featuring Kanye West with a guest rap section (annoyingly as auto-tuned as ever, but at least it fits the track), and as to contradict the poppy nature of the song, Jared cries out the most desperate and emotive chorus yet.

That's half the album in description for you, but while I promise you that there is just as much to be impressed by on the remaining half, I won't give it completely away. I'll reveal that "Closer To The Edge" really justifies the prior comparison to U2 (as does "Search And Destroy" for the matter), and pumps the expression back up with more massive choirs and shrilling cries from Jared - and of course another unforgettable hook. I'll even reveal that "Vox Populi" sees the band get into a track so anthemic you'll have to think back to "We Will Rock You" for points of reference and that fans of the self-titled album will even find a straw to hold onto, in "Stranger In A Strange World", which recalls many of the merits that made a song like "The Mission" so alien, yet so fascinating. What details remain however, are for you to find on your own.

If I were to offer at least some critical perspective, I'd say that those who asked for content - for a concrete, recognizable emotion or situation to lay grounds for all the epic pathos - those people aren't much closer to having their questions answered on "This Is War", and one can't truly reverse their claims of 30STM being purposefully vague in order to draw wider appeal. You never get that feeling as with U2's early stuff, that you know exactly what conflict has inspired the music, and Leto would probably invoke the lyricists common defense, that it is to be open to interpretation, if one asked him. No matter what you think about that though, it's hard not to face that "This Is War" is an absolutely titanic record, that oversteps any and all boundaries that chained its predecessor, "A Beautiful Lie", to the last notions of triviality. It is the full on realization of an artistic vision more outrageous and ambitious than many others dare dream up, for fear of being crucified by the cool-police. It's an album the kind of which only very few come around, and even if it hadn't been executed as well as is the case, that fact alone still calls for you to be very fuckin' impressed. In a very last attempt to explain it, do you remember those teasers for the first Angels And Airwaves album? The ones with the fighter planes that made the album's promise one of infinite adventure. A promise which AVA never delivered on. Well, 30STM have delivered just that. And then some.

Download: Kings & Queens, This Is War, Vox Populi, Night Of The Hunter
For The Fans Of: U2, Anges And Airwaves, Fightstar, Muse, Queen
Listen: myspace.com/thirtysecondstomars

Release Date 08.12.2009
Virgin/EMI

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